Recently, the full tragedy of over 400 Sri Lanka-trained nurses being declared unsuitable to work in the USA because of their lack of English proficiency has shocked all of us. Despite opposition by some chauvinists many of us have persevered in our attacks on the former stupidity of the education policy of this country. Only FOUR out of 400 applicants passed the English proficiency test conducted by the USA for applicants of nursing jobs abroad. This is a good measure of the sad, bad standard of English in our island.
Almost simultaneously, we have a Booker Prize Award deservedly won by a Lankan – but let this not make is feel any better. Shehan Karunatilalake won the Booker award DESPITE, not BECAUSE, of the educational policy of our island. Then, recently, Kanya D’Almeida won the Commonwealth Essay Award and is now an established writer in English. But she won it BACAUSE a good English education at an International School in Sri Lanka helped her (as she regularly acknowledges.)
This dichotomy reflects our tragedy. The ‘average’ Lankan hasn’t a hope of ever getting anywhere in the international arena because the schooling given here is so substandard and out of date…..and it is given in Sinhala or Tamil. (Tamil is at least spoken elsewhere in the world but not Sinhala).Let us face this fact. Only a few million people speak Sinhala and it has no use on the world stage.
In my unpopular opinion, it is the International Schools, Colombo’s Private Schools and Foreign Universities (one in the USA which produced Kanya) which have kept a tiny percentage of our students capable of keeping up with the world. At the other end of the spectrum, I have a 19-year old maid, who cannot even tell the time, albeit being bright and smart. She is from the Deniyaya area and barely attended school. She tells me there are many like her.
Let us face reality…… an appallingly desperate reality….. Sri Lanka is not only bankrupt financially but is educationally bankrupt as well. The small percentage of well educated, English speaking Sri Lankans is no thanks to the system of Education given to us by foolish policy makers under formerly stupid Ministers. Mr Premjayanth is certainly not stupid but what can he do alone? He announced a return to English but there was a dead silence about it in the months that followed. He was presumably shot down by our Sinhala educated pundits.
For once let us forget the word ‘elite’ and try to bring ALL island schools up to the levels of the good private institutions in the country without bringing good schools down to government school levels (as was done in the past). Schools left to their own devices somehow pull themselves up. I have seen small International Schools competing comfortably, with the better established International Schools of the TISSL group after a few initial years of difficulty thus proving my point that it is possible to change the entire system if we set our minds to it.
Obviously I believe in private education for those who can afford it. In fact I think those who can afford it SHOULD be made to pay something to help a bankrupt nation. Free education has to be given of course, but it is being ridiculously and ineptly applied when we see that many children cannot even take advantage of it. Do the children of the starving farmer community even think of going to school? How can they afford the many little expenses that free education does not cover?
Recently my part-time masseuse told me she had to pay Rs. 8,000/ for her child’s prefect-ship. His blazer etc cost that much. She earns just Rs.50,000/- per month as a seamstress and a little extra as a masseuse. But she could not deny her clever son the honour of being a prefect. She borrowed the money from her sister.
Those are the problems of a city dweller who has no way to earn more. The foolishness of insisting on blazers seems unbelievable. We are a hot country and the blazer business was copied from the old British days by Colombo schools. My opinion (unpopular of course) is to ban them in ALL schools and introduce a cheaper but distinguishing garment to be used at Inter School competitions.
Let the Government take the advice of those who have nothing to do with the Government and then implement those policies even against the views of those vociferous Sinhala Buddhist chauvinists who have so far decimated the educational policies of this once educated Island.
Let us not fool ourselves. Being able to read and write does not make us 90% literate as we proudly announce every so often. Our youngsters are not really EDUCATED. Those 400 nurses are ‘educated’ Sri Lankan style but cannot compete in an international arena.
The usual noises are being made about great changes being made in the field of education but so far neither have experts like Dr. Tara de Mel been even consulted, nor have there been any practical ideas about how Sri Lanka plans on upgrading the whole sorry system.
We are broke. A certain politician has not paid electricity bills of over two and a half million we hear. Others are spending money as if we are still a prosperous nation. Why is our Ministry of Health headed by a man with such a tarnished reputation? Why are so many of our Ministries in charge of men whose reputations are quite appalling. In fact too many of our Parliamentarians are thoroughly disliked although one must admit that the President is doing what he can with a few good men and within the restricting framework of a crippled system.
A much admired gentleman I know made the comment recently that it is a great pity that the corrupt parliamentarians who went into hiding are “coming out of the woodwork” without shame. We hope that such people are NOT nominated again to run for election (whenever elections are called.) For instance we have vivid recollections of Akila Viraj who wanted his photo printed in text books. How did such an idea even lodge in his brain? His hold on reality seems badly askew. Let us hope that the men fielded by parties to run for office are men of character, education and intelligence.
Let INTEGRITY be the keynote.